72. Valentine’s Crime

Aramil, Lucius and Ajax tether their horses a quarter-mile down the road. Aramil and Lucius take up firing positions on opposite embankments, where they’re covered by underbrush and have a commanding view of the trail. Inglorion and Valentine remain mounted, concealed in the trees just off the road; Ajax hangs back, prepared to take prisoners and heal casualties.

Dawn breaks. A cold, penetrating wind kicks up.

Just as the breeze dies and the sun appears on the horizon, they hear the slavers’ caravan approaching, then see seven wagons straggled over 100 yards. There are six outriders: Two in front, two behind, and two floating. The group is moving slowly, at a jog.

When the first caravan is within 20 yards, Inglorion and Valentine ride out to block the road. Inglorion calls out in Common, “Stop in the name of the City of Liamelia. Drop your weapons, raise your hands, and keep them clearly visible.” Assassins would know the game immediately; this is the moment where they’re paid to switch sides. Inglorion senses confusion, resistance.

He repeats, “Surrender immediately in the name of the law. We have a letter of marque to search this convoy. Drop your weapons and raise your hands on the count of three, on pain of injury or death.”

He counts down clearly and slowly. The visible drivers and three of the outriders comply. One of the outriders reaches for his quiver. Lucius wings him; he drops his bow and struggles to control his horse.

Inglorion calls out, “Gentlemen, I trust I have your attention now. I expect your immediate surrender in the name of the Liamelia Council of Elders.”

He and Valentine approach the lead caravan, and Inglorion realizes they’re not assassins. They’re Gypsies, drawing sealed caravans.

Inglorion switches to Romany, says, “Brothers, don’t die for the Drow and their merchandise. We’ll take your surrender, search the wagons, and send you peacefully on your way.”

There’s a long, tense pause, then the remaining weapons go down and hands go up all along the line. Inglorion says, “Excellent choice, brothers. We’ll search the caravans, and have you on your way as soon as possible.”

He and Valentine both carry copies of the Letter of Marque. Inglorion pockets his, approaches the lead caravan and addresses the driver calmly in Romany, saying, “What’s your name, brother? Joaquin. OK, good. Sir, no disrespect to you. I know you’re trying to make an honest living. The Council of Elders will reimburse you for your trouble, and our medic will patch up any injuries. I’ll need to unseal the doors and search the caravan.”

Joaquin haggles a bit to save face, but soon they’ve got chocks under the wheels and crowbars out, and Joaquin and one of the outriders are working to break the lock and pry open the sealed doors.

Just as the timbers are beginning to crack, they hear a series of screams, chillingly cut short. The Gypsy men stop cold, look up at Inglorion who says, “Keep going. Open it up. You’ve been paid to carry slaves.” They hesitate, and the outrider drops his crowbar, starts to turn. “Do it,” Inglorion snaps out in Romany. He picks up the dropped crowbar, splits the door.

A hot stench pours out. Inglorion glimpses a score of slaves chained to the floor in their own filth. The Gypsies recoil in what seems to be genuine shock. “Break the doors in, brothers,” Inglorion shouts. “You see what they paid you to carry.” 

He drops the tool, circles to the back of the next caravan, sees Valentine holding a single Gypsy at rapier point, with three more on the ground, bloodied and still. “Holy fuck, Valentine — what happened here?”

“They refused the Letter of Marque, attacked me,” says Valentine.

Inglorion says to the Gypsy, “Brother, I’ll take your surrender. Hold your wrists out.” He binds the man’s hands tightly and swiftly. As he works, he says in High Elvish, “Valentine, Gypsies don’t read.”

“The letter’s in Common.”

“They’re illiterate, in Common and everything else. They don’t read. Did you kill these three?”

“Yeah.”

Inglorion bends over, confirms in a glance that two have bled out. The third still has a pulse, so he whistles Ajax over to stabilize him, then signals to Lucius and Aramil that civilians are present, shoot only to wound. To Valentine he says, “Right. It’s a slave caravan. Help me get this open. Crowbars should be — yup, right there. I’ll lead the search from here. Stick with me.” 

There’s a tussle at the third caravan; after that, the remaining guards and drivers surrender. Inglorion keeps them unbound but under guard, treating them as civilians rather than allies of the Drow.

It takes two hours to pry open the remaining caravans. Inglorion and Valentine find just over 100 slaves: Men, women and children. Some dead, some near death, many feverish, all dehydrated and lying in their own waste. Most were carriage sick within the first days or hours, until their stomachs were emptied. They’re humans and wood elves, though Inglorion spots a poor lone female half-orc who seems to have been beaten to death by her fellow captives. The last two caravans were used to store and transport the gypsies’ water and supplies. Ajax divides up the stores, and begins to clean, feed and treat the prisoners.

Once all the caravans have been opened and searched, and Inglorion’s confident that the Gypsies won’t take up arms, Aramil and Lucius join Ajax in the grim work of sorting the living from the dead, binding and cleaning wounds, handing out sips of water, bites of food. One of the outriders proves to be severely injured — he’s got a sucking chest wound, and won’t recover. Bad luck, or a bad shot on Lucius’s part. 

Inglorion binds the Gypsies’ wounds personally, drawing the arrow, packing the wound, applying a tourniquet, and stitching up a flesh wound on the guy Valentine held at rapier point. He jokes with the group in Romany, expresses sympathy where he reasonable can, prays with them. Two men refuse to speak to him at all, just spit on the ground and make a sign to ward off evil. He hears the word “foreigner” half-a-dozen times, along with insulting phrases for elves, “white nigger” prominent among them.

It takes several hours for Ajax to evaluate all the prisoners and get a count. Finally he approaches Inglorion, stands before him silently, eyes averted, just like the old days. “What’s the word, Ajax?”

“Eight dead from dehydration or exposure. Two seem to have used their irons to beat each other to death. One murdered by her cellmates. Twenty-three in dire condition — unlikely to survive the night without shelter and care. Sixty-seven stable and able to take food and water. The caravans are unhealthy. We should make every attempt to move the stable population to other shelter. There were blankets and tarps in the last wagon, enough to build lean-tos and tents for overnight shelter. The sickest should be moved before nightfall. They’re unlikely to survive the cold and damp, even under cover.”

“The wagons can’t be cleaned?”

“They should be burned.”

“How many can be moved safely and comfortably in the last two caravans?”

“A dozen.”

“Very well. Select those who you think must go before nightfall. I’ll talk to them personally.” 

He writes a letter to the Council of Elders, enclosing a summary and after-action report, and separate notes to Lord Carlyon and Xardic Ceralac requesting aid and supplies. As he hands the letters to Valentine he says, “I reported the casualties among the Gypsies, and how they came about. Just the facts, and what I observed. I’ve made it clear that we will comply with any investigation they think is necessary. It is serious, and I’ve made it clear in my letter that I know the consequences may be grave.”

Valentine bows his head. 

“Before you leave here, I’ll need you to write a plain, factual account of the operation, focusing on the casualties that occurred. No speculation, no discussion of motives. Just the sequence of events as you remember it. Seal it and give it to me. I won’t discuss either incident with you, and the team will refrain from discussing it internally until we’ve been debriefed. The best way to insure a fair outcome is to record your memories immediately, and to avoid unconscious collaboration and cross-contamination.

“If you’d prefer me to send Lucius to Liamelia, I will. Under the circumstances, he’s likely to be investigated as well. You’re a citizen and respected. I think they understand that you won’t flee or attempt to cover up evidence. I think — I believe — it will help if I demonstrate the confidence that I feel in you.”

“No, no, you’re right.” Valentine pockets the letter. “I’ll leave once I’ve done that, and send a courier if I’m detained.” He looks pained, grim. 

“Really fucking bad things happen — shit no one intends. I do trust you. Travel safe, OK?”

Valentine redeemed a blood oath and went into a frenzy during the Battle of Liamelia; he considers the moral cost of his time in the Drow army here and here.

For the first episode of Inglorion’s adventures, click here.

For a linked table of contents, listing all of Inglorion and Valentine’s adventures, click here.

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